Monthly Archives: February 2017

Today’s Super Comic — Wolverine #66 (2008)

I never read “Old Man Logan.” Considering how the storyline is critically acclaimed and the inspiration for the new Wolverine movie that comes out this week, I better get to it.

So far, I’ve just read the first part, in Wolverine #66, and why did I overlook this for so long? Set in a future Marvel Universe in which the good guys lost, Logan is trying to put his superhero days behind him and focus on his family. Yes, the former Wolverine is in a family way, with a wife and two kids. And he’s got no fight left in him, which is a highly unusual—and therefore interesting—state for this character to be in.

I’m surprised this was printed in the regular Wolverine series rather than as a separate miniseries. It certainly feels distinctive enough to stand on its own, especially with the big-name talent behind it (writer Mark Millar and artist Steve McNiven).

This story is building its own world with its own rules, using the Marvel Universe we know merely as a starting point. The inclusion of an old, blind Hawkeye and the grandchildren of the Hulk suggests this story will be playing in a rather large sandbox.

After reading the first part, I want to know what exactly happened and what will happen to make Wolvie get his groove back. I’m assuming that will be the case, anyway … it will be really depressing if it’s not. On to part two, then…

Writer: Mark Millar

Penciler: Steve McNiven

Inker: Dexter Vines

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Wolverine: Old Man Logan (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 15 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #125 (2000)

The Batman books attempted an ambitious storyline that wrecked the status quo and crossed over every Bat-title for a year. On the whole, the result was successful.

Prior to “No Man’s Land,” an earthquake had practically destroyed Gotham City, and the U.S. government decided to condemn the city and isolate it from the rest of the country. People had a window of time to evacuate, and those who stayed behind would be stuck in a lawless land.

You have to suspend quite a bit of disbelief for the premise, but once you get past that, it’s a great set-up for a year of Batman stories unlike any other. The villains carve out their respective territories to lord over, while the remnants of the Gotham City Police Department, no longer with any legal authority, try to impose order and protect the innocents left behind, with Jim Gordon serving more in a general role than a police commissioner role. And Batman is initially AWOL for reasons known only to him.

Throughout the long arc, resentment and tensions build between Batman and Gordon, and they come to a head in Legends of the Dark Knight #125, which is basically just a conversation between the two.

It’s an excellent conversation, one that was years in the making, with Gordon finally calling Batman out for acting like a jerk—treating him like a subordinate, leaving him in the dark about major events, and frequently walking out on him in mid-sentence. It was long overdue, and Batman’s response is meaningful…as is Gordon’s response to that response.

Batman may be the title character, but for this storyline, Gordon provides the emotional core and serves as the most compelling protagonist. A good man who has dedicated his life to upholding the law finds himself in a lawless situation and must make difficult, ethically murky choices along the way. That’s great stuff right there.

And yeah, Batman really was a jerk at this point in his history.

By the way, the “No Man’s Land” novelization by Greg Rucka is also excellent. There’s more than enough going on here to fill a novel.

Writer: Greg Rucka

Penciler: Rick Burchett

Inker: James Hodgkins

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Batman: No Man’s Land vol. 4 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comics — Tales of the Teen Titans #42-44, Annual #3 (1984)

The Teen Titans never achieved the tremendous levels of popularity the X-Men enjoyed for many years, but for a period in the early ‘80s, the quality of stories and characterization was pretty damn close.

The classic Marv Wolfman/George Perez run on The New Teen Titans reached its creative climax with a storyline called “The Judas Contract” (which has an animated adaptation coming out soon). At this point, the title had been renamed Tales of the Teen Titans and a new New Teen Titans series was about to come out. If this were a television series, the storyline would feel like a satisfying season finale, one that ties up lots of threads that have been laid since the series’ earliest installments while continuing to flesh out characters.

One of the Titans is a traitor, which was revealed to the reader shortly before these issues. And this traitor has been working with Slade Wilson, alias Deathstroke the Terminator. Wilson’s son had taken out a contract with the villainous organization HIVE to capture the Titans, dead or alive, though he died in the process. Now, Wilson feels honor-bound to fulfill it, and it’s clearly taking a toll on him.

Nevertheless, with the aid of a psychotic teenager, he captures the Titans one by one—except for Dick Grayson, who had recently relinquished his Robin role.

Watch Robin grow up into Nightwing. Watch all the Titans reel from a member’s cold-hearted betrayal. Watch them cautiously accept a new member. Watch Slade Wilson acquire far more depth than the typical comic book super-villain. And generally admire the amazing execution of the whole thing.

Don’t start with this storyline, though. Begin with The New Teen Titans #1, consider “The Judas Contract” the pinnacle, and maybe read a little bit further. And, aside from the occasional aspect that’s a little dated (or a lot), you’ll enjoy one of the all-time great superhero team series. (Especially if you already like the X-Men.) (Not meant to be an endorsement the Teen Titans Go cartoon, which was purely for the kiddies and dreadful for adults.)

Writer: Marv Wolfman

Penciler: George Perez

Inker: Dick Giordano

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in New Teen Titans: The Judas Contract (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 11 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Daredevil #26 (2001)

Speaking of “decompressed” comics … the quintessential example when the trend first got going was Daredevil by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Alex Maleev, beginning with issue #26 of the Marvel Knights series.

As a whole, the run is fantastic. It shook up Daredevil’s status quo, and it stands apart as a distinctive era for the character, an era that built on what came before rather than rehashing the classics. Bendis’s snappy dialogue lent an engrossing new voice to the franchise, and Maleev’s gritty, sketchy style suited the world of Hell’s Kitchen perfectly.

But this is also a series that benefits from binge reading and suffers from a pace of 22 pages per month. Since the run is long since finished and compiled into collections, the latter no longer matters, though.

Issue #26 kicks off with a monologue that leads into an attention-grabbing inciting incident. The book cuts to Matt Murdock in court, which serves as a Daredevil primer—if you’ve never read a DD comic, the character’s essential components are covered here, not in any depth, but you get a foundation. And then disaster, during which Bendis foreshadows a major upcoming development without telegraphing it.

And that’s basically the first issue of the run. It takes about two seconds to read (even with monologues), but just enough happens, some basic exposition is knocked out of the way, we see Daredevil’s hyper-senses in action … and it’s all the start of something great.

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis

Artist: Alex Maleev

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Daredevil by Brian Michael Bendis Omnibus vol. 1 (HC)

Appropriate For: ages 14 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Captain America #33 (2008)

In the past 15+ years or so, comics have embraced longer-form storytelling. Stories are still divided into chapters of 20-22 pages, but there’s been a greater focus on the overarching narratives that build over the course of years. The old rule of “every comic is someone’s first, so make it accessible” is less of a concern (recap pages try to compensate for that, though), and you’re best off starting with #1 or the first issue of a new creative team (which partially explains why companies keep rebooting books back to new issue ones). Television has undergone a similar evolution during the same time.

A common complaint when the “decompressed storytelling” trend first emerged was that you’d sometimes read an issue where it felt like almost nothing happened. The story would read great in trade paperback, but the month-to-month pace suffered…in some cases. Not in the case of Ed Brubaker’s Captain America run, which demonstrates the creative benefits of the slow build.

(Some spoilers ahead.)

Brubaker began reintroducing Bucky Barnes back in #1, took his time developing the character, and killed Captain America in #25. And yet, it’s not until #33 that Bucky is even ready to entertain the notion of succeeding his old partner.

By this point, clear motivations are established for everyone involved. The idea comes posthumously from Cap himself, communicated in a letter he arranged to have delivered to Tony Stark upon his death. He asked Stark to save Bucky from himself and to make sure the legacy of Captain America continues. Stark, wracked with guilt about how the whole Civil War debacle went down, feels especially obligated to comply, and he sees only one way to fulfill both objectives—have Bucky become the new Cap. Bucky, out of loyalty and respect, is not going to let anyone else take the job, and he has much to atone for. And Black Widow, who first met Bucky as the brainwashed Winter Soldier, knows he’s not ready to carry the burden, but out of respect and affection for both Bucky Barnes and Steve Rogers, she’s there to help.

The full saga is basically like a novel with dynamically laid out artwork. And so far, it’s every bit as amazing as I remember.

Writer: Ed Brubaker

Penciler: Steve Epting

Inker: Butch Guice

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Captain America: The Death of Captain America vol. 2 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 14 and up

Today’s Super Comic — The Infinity Gauntlet #4 (1991)

Four issues into a six-issue miniseries, the good guys are due for a major setback.

I think everyone dying qualifies.

In an effort to woo Mistress Death, Thanos has already vanquished half the population of the entire universe using the power of the assembled Infinity Gauntlet. He’s achieved godhood, and now he wants love.

In #4, a band of surviving superheroes mounts a major offensive against Thanos while his captive half-brother, former Avenger Starfox, narrates from the sidelines. Mephisto, who’s basically Marvel’s version of the Devil, convinces Thanos to dampen his omniscience to give the heroes a sporting chance—in doing so, Thanos would display courage in battle and could thereby impress Mistress Death, Mephisto reasons.

So the heroes have a minuscule chance of victory against a supremely powerful villain, but they fight anyway. And they fall—and die—one by one, until Captain America is the last man standing against the mad god. Cap has his big hero moment staring down an opponent he has almost no chance of defeating.

It’s an absolutely classic Captain America scene that says a great deal about his character. While Thanos is pretending to be brave to impress someone, Cap is legitimately displaying supreme courage with no ally left to witness it as far as he knows.

And he dies. The good guys fail. And there are two issues left!

As a whole, The Infinity Gauntlet is cosmic-scale comic book storytelling at its finest. A universe in peril, life-and-death struggles, a twisted version of courtship—quite a bit going on here, all of it entertaining.

Writer: Jim Starlin

Artists: Ron Lim and George Perez

Cover: George Perez

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in The Infinity Gauntlet (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Black Widow #6 (2016)

Back in the ‘60s, Black Widow was introduced as an enemy for Iron Man. So it’s fitting that Black Widow #6 puts them at odds once again, as we (and Tony Stark) learn that she once targeted someone very important to him back in her less scrupulous days.

The issue rejects the usual “heroes fight over a misunderstanding” pattern and instead offers twists that are in character for both Natasha and Tony. And it’s not the usual sort of “misunderstanding” in play here—the Widow’s guilty. But there’s more going on than just one painful revelation.

So the story’s great, and I also continue to enjoy writer/artist Chris Samnee’s visuals. He captures exactly the right tone, and the facial expressions bring the scenes to life.

At this point, I think it’s safe to declare this the Black Widow’s strongest solo series to date.

Writers: Chris Samnee and Mark Waid

Artist: Chris Samnee

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: recent back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Black Widow vol. 1: SHIELD’s Most Wanted (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Iron Man #30 (2000)

So there was that time Y2K caused Iron Man’s armor to become sentient.

Okay, it more like the combination of Tony Stark’s carelessness, his overconfidence, and Y2K. But still. Y2K—enemy of Iron Man!

And it was a great storyline, probably the first great Iron Man story I ever read, almost a decade before the movies revitalized the character. “The Mask in the Iron Man” reaches its conclusion in #30, pitting an armor-less Stark against his own technology come alive. But it’s come alive without any ethics or morality.

The armor brings Stark to a deserted island and gives him a choice—they’ll either join forces or the armor will kill him. When the armor, desperate to be recognized as a true Avenger, flies off to respond to a distress call, Stark must rely on his natural ingenuity and resourcefulness to survive on an island that has not a single machine for him to work with. And we’re reminded why the main appeal of the Iron Man series has always been Tony Stark himself rather than any suit of armor.

Easily the best thing to come out of that whole Y2K scare.

Writer: Joe Quesada

Penciler: Sean Chen

Inker: Rob Hunter

Cover: Joe Quesada

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Iron Man: The Mask in the Iron Man (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comics — Detective Comics #934-940 (2016)

Hey, look—the original numbering is back. Welcome back, triple-digit numbers.

The numbering is old, but the direction is new. Detective Comics becomes a team book beginning with issue #934, with Batman and Batwoman as co-leads. They gather the next generation of Gotham-based crimefighters, seeking to train them to face an oncoming threat.

The recruits are all familiar faces (though I’m more familiar with their pre–New 52 versions): Tim Drake, here as Red Robin instead of just Robin (not sure what the distinction is, other than the very first Robin of olde-timey continuity grew up into Red Robin, but in-story, the “Red” seems a random addition); Cassandra Cain, Orphan (she was the second Batgirl in previous continuity); Stephanie Brown, Spoiler (the third Batgirl in previous continuity); and, quite randomly, a reformed Clayface (it feels like that old Sesame Street game—one of these things just doesn’t belong here; but I like the idea of Batman wanting to help an old foe turn his life around).

It’s a good team, and they face a compelling antagonist. The U.S. military (or at least one rogue contingent within) has decided to duplicate Batman’s techniques, methods, and equipment to create an army of Batmen. If one Batman can accomplish so much good in Gotham, how much good could many Batmen accomplish in military situations across the globe?

I don’t usually care for casting the military as villains, but this turns out to be an exception. There aren’t any mustache-twirling villains here. They have legitimate concerns about national security, and trying to learn from Batman is certainly not a bad idea, but they go way too far, to the point of endangering the innocents they want to protect. To make things more interesting, the colonel in charge of this operation is Batwoman’s father and Batman’s uncle, adding personal dimensions to the conflict.

The team nature of the book humanizes Batman a bit, giving him more opportunities than usual to display genuine emotion—especially after what happens in #940. I’ll be back for the second volume.

This might be the strongest DC Rebirth trade I’ve read yet, and they’ve all been good (so far, though I probably just jinxed it…sorry about that).

Writer: James Tynion IV

Artists: Eddy Barrows and Alvaro Martinez

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; Batman: Detective Comics vol. 1: Rise of the Batmen (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Starman #80 (2001)

And that’s the end of James Robinson’s Starman. (Spoilers ahead.)

The series wasn’t perfect by any means, but it was ambitious and distinctive. And it told a complete beginning, middle, and end. This could have been a series of novels as well as comics.

The Jack Knight on the final page of #80 is a much more mature individual than we met back in #0. The biggest indication of maturity is his decision to leave superheroics behind so he can be a father to his children. He passes his cosmic rod on to a worthy successor—Courtney Whitmore, the JSA’s junior member, formerly the Star-Spangled Kid and now Stargirl. (However, while she’s an established JSA character, it would have been nice for her to have more of a role in this series, given that she ends being the official successor to the Starman legacy. But like I said, for all its strengths, it wasn’t a perfect series.)

So in hindsight, it seems the series wasn’t so much about Jack Knight growing into his superhero role—it was about him more generally becoming the man he needed to be. He’s gained a new appreciation and respect for the family he had previously kept at arm’s length, and now he prioritizes his new family. He’s been on quite a journey, and he’s older and wiser for it.

The series is quite an accomplishment—and one I’m glad I finally got around to reading.

Writer: James Robinson

Artist: Peter Snejbjerg

Cover: Tony Harris and Andrew Robinson

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Starman Omnibus vol. 6 (HC)

Appropriate For: ages 14 and up